Province failing its obligation to repair the Copper River: Northwest Loggers Association

The association representing small business loggers says the province is failing in its obligation to repair the Copper River Forest Service Road east of Terrace which was heavily damaged during heavy rains and flooding last October.

“Our members have had their [logging] equipment stranded for a period of four months,” Northwest Loggers Association president Trevor Jobb said this week of damage which cut off sections of the road.

And although Pacific Northern Gas (PNG), which has its own troubles because the rains exposed sections of its main natural gas pipeline, is building a tote road to help with repairs, it won’t be finished for at least a month and even then some logging equipment will still be stranded because its located beyond the tote road’s location, Jobb said.

The association is arguing that the Copper River FSR is part of the provincial government’s infrastructure network and that it has an obligation to make repairs beyond what’s considered normal maintenance when unforeseen events such as last October’s heavy rains occur.

“It is logical that [the province] play a significant and leading role in the reconstruction and repairs, and that those repairs are started at the earliest possible time,” Jobb said.

For its part the province is making $200,000 available to help remove stranded equipment although early estimates place overall road repairs and reconstruction in the $2.5 million range.

And in a Jan. 31, 2018 letter sent to Jobb, a senior forests, lands and natural resources and rural development ministry ministry official said the Copper River FSR is “not a capital road; therefore it does not qualify under ministry engineering funding policy for capital funding.”

“Under the policy, the road is to be maintained by the primary user through a road use permit,” noted Kevin Kriese.

So far the ministry has drawn up a repair and reconstruction cost sharing agreement for PNG, BC Hydro, BC Timber Sales and other road users but the issue of who should pay for what and how much remains unresolved.

PNG, for example, maintains that while it is responsible for routine maintenance as a road user, the province is responsible for major work when there are unforeseen events causing extensive damage.

Kriese’s letter was in response to one sent Dec. 12, 2017 that was signed by more than 40 local businesses and associations, including the Kitselas First Nation, asking the provincial government for assistance.

It noted that small operations with stranded equipment are suffering economic hardship.

It also pointed out that the Copper River FSR leads the way to timber harvesting areas and as such is “vital to the survival of ….. businesses and [is] the economic lifeline of the communities and the people that live here.”

“Timber harvested from this area is estimated to be in excess of 200,000 cubic metres annually between all licencees, contributing to over $14 million in direct economic opportunity,” the letter stated.

The letter equated the storm damage to the fires which swept through the interior of the province last summer and so requires the province “to address this damage in similar fashion, with a quick and complete response.”

Aside from industrial users, the Copper River FSR is used by anglers, outdoor recreational enthusiasts and tourists.

In the meantime, PNG continues to work on repairs while it develops a long term plan to reroute and rebury sections of its pipeline.

“PNG is doing everything possible to ensure continued safe, reliable and cost effective service for our customers,” said PNG operations and engineering vice president Joe Mazza.

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